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3U4                                                                                                           B- POLEVOI
When he reached his machine the cover had already been
removed from the engine and the mechanic, a pock-
marked, laughter-loving lad, was waiting impatiently for
An engine roared. Meresyev watched the "6", his
Squadron Commander's plane. Captain Cheslov taxied his
machine on to an open glade. He raised his arm—that
meant "Attention!" The other engines roared. The whirl-
wind bowed the grass to the ground and caused the green
tresses of the weeping birches to flutter in the breeze as
if straining to break away.
As he was running to his machine Alexei was overtaken
by another airman who managed to shout to him that the
tanks were passing to the offensive. That meant that the
fighters were to cover the tanks' passage through the
shattered enemy lines, to clear and cover the air for the
attackers. Cover the air? What did it matter? In an in-
tense battle like this, it could not mean a peaceful flight.
Sooner or later he was sure to meet the enemy in the air.
Now came the test! Now he would prove that he was not
inferior to any airman, that he had achieved his object.
Alexei was nervous, but not because he was afraid of
being killed; not even because of the sense of danger that
affects even the bravest and coolest of men. Something
else was worrying him: Had the armourers tested the
machine-guns and cannon? Were the ear-phones in his
new helmet, which he had not yet worn in battle, in
order? Would Petrov lag behind, or rush in too hastily
if they had to fight the enemy? Where was the stick?
He wouldn't like to lose Vasily Vasilyevich's gift, and
he was even worried that somebody might take the book
he had left in the dugout, a novel that he had read the
previous day up to the most thrilling part and which he
had left on the table in his hurry. He remembered that he
had not said good-bye to Petrov, so he waved his hand
to him from the cockpit. But Petrov did not see him, he
Was impatiently watching the Commander's raised arm,
his face, framed by his leather helmet, suffused with a
patchy flush. The arm dropped. The cockpit hoods were
A trio of  machines   snorted at the line and ran off,
followed by another, and by a third. As soon as the first